☠ Chapter Twenty-One ☠
➳ ARIELLE'S POV
I wipe down the plate within my hands as I dry it off, frustrated. I can feel his eyes burning a hole into my head. It's been like this the entire class and the level of discomfort I'm feeling burst through the ceiling about 30 minutes ago, and has sky rocketed to the clouds.
I place the plate into the cupboard where it belongs. It's taking everything within me to not gaze in his direction, but I know that if I return Chef's lingering gaze it's only going to make things worse. One more class with him, I tell myself. Just one more.
We cooked rib of lamb with garlic risotto and fava beans today. It took well over two hours to cook. Two hours of being in the same room with the dick that called Zayn a "brute." To say that I was uncomfortable when I walked into the room is a understatement.
When I walked into the doorway this morning Chef Wilson stopped what he was doing on his desk, his eyes burning holes in me. I didn't dare look in his direction. I told myself I wouldn't look at his eyes. I wouldn't make eye contact. If I didn't make eye contact then maybe I could just shrink away and disappear into the crowd.
But I knew it wasn't working. I can feel his eyes analyzing my every move.
I grab the last dish on the rack, a glass, and wipe it off as quick as the liquid will absorb into the towel. I have to stand on my tippy toes to place the glass on the shelf. "Arielle," I hear a familiar deep voice ring out behind me. I don't turn towards the voice instantly, I just hang my head, hoping and praying that some miracle will happen where he just vanishes.
"Arielle," he calls my name again. I hate the way it sounds coming out from his low voice, I much prefer Zayn's sweet accent calling me to him.
I know that I can't ignore him forever. I inhale a breath before turning towards him. I don't make eye contact, I just look around the room. It's then that I realize that there's only the three of us in the room. And the other person in the room is hanging up their chef's coat, signalling that they're leaving. That means that me and Chef Wilson will be the only two left.
"Arielle," he calls my name again. This time I'm forced to look into his brown eyes. I take a step backwards instinctively, backing up until I hit the countertop behind me. He notices the reaction, but he just leans forward, placing his hands on the tile top opposite me.
"Yes Chef," I respond. I don't want to stand here and fight with him. I don't even want to see his face. I don't want to hear the sound as he scratches his tattered beard out of habit. I don't want to hear my name fall from his lips. I don't want to be in the presence of someone who's so unpredictable. So infuriating. So menacing.
A thought occurs to me then... he'd be perfect for my mother.
I swallow the bile that rises and try my best to square my shoulders in defence, just as Zayn does. I'm not scared of him.
"I wanted to let you know that despite what happened between us, I'm not going to let the things you said affect your grade," he runs a hand through his hair, before it runs down his beard. The sound of his fingers running through his beard is almost unbearable to my ears.
"That's big of you," I state. I feel my hands grip onto the counter. Please let this be all he wants to say to me. I stare at him with fearful eyes.
He chuckles humourlessly, "big of me?" He slowly licks his lips, staring at me in the most predatory manner. "Arielle, you threatened to tank my career."
"You left me no choice, Chef."
He begins stepping around the counter towards me. I shrivel down where I am, the whole squaring my shoulders in defence thing going right out the window. I feel terrified as he takes quiet steps towards me. The room is dead silent. I hear my phone vibrate in my purse, which is across the room, but I'm trapped. Chef has me trapped in a corner in my tiny little kitchen.
This is exactly what Zayn warned me about.
I try my best to wander my gaze anywhere but Chef's eyes, but he's too close and I find that my eyes eventually find his. "Oh, but you do have a choice Arielle, you know that. Your little boyfriend has you wrapped around his finger is all." His gaze is totally fixated on me.
I squirm in front of him unsure of where this is going or what he's going to do. "Don't talk about him like that." I try my best to defend Zayn with the most confident voice I can muster, although I'm unsure if it at all sounds like I intend it to. Chef gives me zero indication if my confidence worked; his face is stone straight. "I can make decisions for myself."
He chuckles lightly, "oh you might think that sweetheart." He takes another step towards me. I close my eyes when his meaty fingers reach for my hair.
"Chef-" I warn, attempting to back away, but I'm stuck. I'm helpless and I'm trapped.
He ignores my warning, "but you're wrong love." I feel bile rise in my throat at the way he's calling me pet names. I didn't want to hear them fall off his thin, chapped lips. I want to hear them come from Zayn's beautifully pink lips in his Bradford accent.
He's so close I can feel his breath as it quickly fans across my skin. His chest is rising and falling quickly. Chef's close enough to me that I can hear the air as its being exhaled from his nostrils. He's breathing hard and heavy before me, making me all that more uncomfortable.
It's almost as if this is a thrill to him; some sort of sick twisted game. A game that he gets off on. His rapid heartbeat, his shaky hands, his sly smirk, his large, predatory eyes. Toying with me like this is all something he's doing to amuse himself.
I'm not even sure what he wants from me. Does he want to sleep with me? Is he just attracted to me? Does he maybe just have tendencies to step over boundaries with younger women? Maybe something mentally hasn't properly developed with him; maybe he just doesn't know what boundaries are? Or maybe it's as simple as he feels enjoyment when he sees the fear and desperation in my eyes as I struggle to back away from his touch.
My eyes scan around the room desperately searching for something to distract him. Something to throw maybe. I look around, but everything useful I find is way too far from my reach. I hear my phone vibrate again twice within my bag on the other side of the room. Besides Chef's heavy breathing, it's the only thing that can be heard.
My gaze flickers from my bag back to his eyes. He's still completely fixated on me. He takes one more step towards me and places both of his hands on the countertop on either side of my body. Now I'm totally and completely trapped in the corner of this tiny kitchen.
"Arielle," his voice is low. His brown eyes dart down to my lips and his tongue darts out, licking them slowly. I know what's coming next. I desperately look around him, trying to find an exit. That's when I hear my phone begin vibrating consistently.
I lift my knee right into Chef's groin. A load groan along with a profanity is heard. He bends over in pain - his hands instinctively reaching for the ache. I make my move, quickly running around him and straight towards my bag. He takes a step forward, placing his hand on top of the countertop; his other hand is still placed on his aching groin. He looks at me and despite the fact that I'm on the other side of the room, I notice the darker shade within his eyes. He bites his lip harshly and closes his eyes for a moment to regain some composure.
He throws his head back and stares at the ceiling for a moment. I watch his chest rise and fall in quick breaths. He grinds his teeth together and then ever so slowly, his head lowers down; his gaze never falters. "You really shouldn't have done that Arielle," he warns.
I watch his shoulders fall and he begins quick steps in my direction. I run for the door. Just as I reach for the door it's pushed into me and I nearly fall.
I know it is.
I inhale the smell of fresh cigarettes with just a touch of mint. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" His voice is so threatening that I have to look up and check that it is, in fact Zayn. He doesn't even look at me, he just stands between Chef and myself. His fists are balled up so tightly that they're completely white.
How did he know that I was here? Was he the one calling me? I watch as the two of them share a challenging gaze. Part of me hopes that Zayn beats Chef until he can no longer stand but the other part of me worries; worries that Zayn will get out of hand. I watched Zayn pummel Harry already and I know that I can't stop him once his anger has superseded all of his other emotions.
Chef doesn't respond. He just stands there, challenging Zayn.
I hear Zayn's breathing begin to speed up. "Zayn," I say to him. But there's nothing I can do. It's almost as if watching a train wreck, or a car accident; all I can do is sit here helplessly and hope and pray that no one ends up dead.
Chef's lips slowly curl into a sly little smirk.
Zayn lunges towards him, pinning him to the cold tile flooring. I hear his fist connect with Chef's. The awful sound fills my ears. Again. Again. Again. Chef lies helpless on the ground.
I run to Zayn, yelling his name. I avoid being hit with his elbow as he slams his fist into Chef's face again. "Zayn!" I yell again and he stops. I take a step back when he looks up into my eyes; his are dark, near black. He doesn't apologize, he just stands up and walks away from the man.
"Get your things," his voice is low.
I take a step towards the door, but stop. I can't help but turn and sneak a glance at Chef. When I look down at his body, he's lying there on the floor with blood running down his cheek and onto the floor. He begins opening his eye - the other has already swollen shut - and he fixates on me. A low, dark chuckle erupts from inside of him. I watch his thin lips curve into a smirk.
"Arielle!" Zayn yells from the doorway.
I close my eyes, taking a moment to gather myself before slipping my coat off. I hang it up in its usual place and gather my things. Zayn and I walk out the door together, leaving Chef to cater to his wounds.
Zayn utters a few curse words and runs his hands through his midnight hair. His knuckles are swollen, red and have some of Chef's blood on them. He paces back and forth a few times, his boots clunking each time he takes a step.
"Zayn," I murmur. "How'd you know?" I ask, wondering how in the hell he found me. He either ignores my quesiton, or doesn't hear it.
He runs his hands through his hair again and leaves them there, hanging his head. His large hands make their way down and they run over his face. He stops them just over his mouth and closes his eyes, breathing in and out. When they drop from his face they shake.
I take a step towards him and grab his hands. I softly run my fingers over his knuckles, but he jerks his hands away from me. He looks down at me filled with anger. I wrap my arms around his neck and fist my fingers in his hair, pulling his head down. I gently rest my forehead to his, "breathe," I mutter quietly.
He reaches around and grabs both of my wrists gently, pulling them away from him. He pulls his forehead from mine and walks away from me. I scurry behind him but it's hard because his legs are so much longer than mine.
He opens the school doors quickly and cuts across the grass, heading directly for his car. "Zayn, I -" I begin.
He abruptly turns around and I nearly run into him. "Don't. Don't fucking start." His voice is laced with venom. He walks with such dominance that many people stare at him and look away quickly, making sure to move out of his way. I follow behind obediently.
When we reach the car, he unlocks it and turns around to grab my wrist. He grabs it awkwardly and a small shot of pain wrings through it. "Get in the fucking car, Arielle."
He opens the door and I do as I'm told. I watch him walk around the car and get into it. When he's shut the door he doesn't say anything; he just buckles up, starts the car, revs the engine a few times and then we take off, faster than we ever have before.
I don't dare say anything to him, I just sit in the passenger's seat silently and fiddle with the strap on my seatbelt. After a few minutes he finds a long, nearly empty stretch of road. He abruptly stops. I find myself looking at him as he takes deep breaths while his eyes are closed. We've stopped right in the middle of a lane on the highway. I'm unsure of where we are, but there's stretch upon stretch of beach out my window.
He puts his foot on the gas pedal and revs the engine three times. His hand - which is resting on the gear shift knob - stretches out and grabs back on tightly. He's working the muscles in his hands, which I'm sure are sore.
He shifts the car into gear and his foot is heavy on the gas pedal. The addictive adrenaline immediately fills my veins. I try not to squeal out in excitement, but I end up covering my mouth when a small sound escapes my lips. He shifts the car into a higher gear as we accelerate. He rounds a corner, whipping past all of the bystanders on the beach. I notice a few glances in our direction as they hear the sounds coming from the car's exhaust.
He shifts up again. We accelerate.
Another squeal escapes my lips. When I look at Zayn his jaw is tight, but his eyes are no longer near black; they're almost the normal shade of caramel. The muscles in his arms are no longer tense. His features are no longer hard.
I feel the car slowly decelerate and it's not long before we're doing his normal speed - slightly above the speed limit. I stare out the window in silence until he pulls up to his house.
I'm not entirely sure why we're here, but I don't object to it. I don't want to upset him further when he's just calming down. He pulls right up into his garage and I get out. He does the same and leads me into the house.
I hear the familiar thud and then scratching and the puppy comes tearing around the corner. She runs full speed at me and wipes out on the slippery flooring. I reach down and pick her up, cradling her in my arms. She peppers me with kisses. I can't help the smile that washes across my face.
"Have you chosen a name yet, baby?" I ask.
He reacts slightly when he hears the word baby. "Skyline," he quietly says, clearly still upset.
I scratch the puppy's belly, "hi Sky. How are you, sweetie?" She squirms wildly in my arms. So much so that I have to drop her back down to the floor.
When I look up, Zayn's in the kitchen throwing back a glass of dark brown liquor. He puts the empty glass down on the table and begins making his way down the hall, "follow me." He demands.
I place my purse down on the kitchen countertop and follow him obediently. He leads me to his bedroom. I hear the sound of something moving and when I walk into the bedroom I see him moving the small green chair that normally rests in the corner. Sky is running around awkwardly at my feet and I nearly trip on her. She runs full speed into the room, launching her small body up onto Zayn's bed and she lies there.
"What is this, Arielle?" Zayn asks, drawing my attention away from Sky.
Zayn's eyes are no longer angry, they're full of worry, sadness, empathy. I walk carefully towards him. He's pointing towards a single quote written on the wall, in my handwriting.
"Behind my smile is everything you'll never understand"
I scan over it once, twice, three times. It's completely silent in the room for a few moments. I know exactly what this is. This has absolutely nothing to do with Zayn, it's about someone else. Something that I told myself I wouldn't speak of. Something that I didn't dare want to bring up. Something that's eaten away at my insides. It was the entire reason why I'd moved here, why I'd left home. Why I was the way I was now. How everything got so fucked up, I'll never know.
"Arielle." Zayn's voice brings me back and he stands before me, "what does this mean?"
"It's nothing," I shrug, "just another quote to add to your wall is all."
I look up at his face. I admire that his stubble is already back. I think I much rather prefer him with stubble. His face is so much more rugged, and sexy.
"Arielle," he breathes. He runs a hand over his face. His rings shine in the small amount of sunlight that's streaming past the gaps in his black curtains.
Silence falls between us.
"Does this have to do with him?"
"Who?" I ask.
"Your Chef. Babygirl, did he do something to you?" He grabs my hands and holds them.
"No, no, of course not. He never attempted anything until today," I say, truthfully. His hands twitch at the mention of earlier.
He breathes a sigh, "you're not lying to me, are you? Because I swear if he did something he will be dead."
I squeeze his hands reassuringly, "it has nothing to do with Chef, I promise." I cup his cheek lovingly.
"There's something you're not telling me." He pulls away from me and takes a seat on the edge of the bed. Sky doesn't even move, she's fast asleep. He runs a hand through his hair and then places both hands on his knees, staring at me intently. "It has to do with this quote, and with your blackout, and your anxiety attacks. Babygirl, whatever it is I want you to feel like you can tell me. It's obviously affecting you. Let me shoulder some of the burden."
My heart swells. It's never been very obvious that he cares about me, but today's different. He notices. He cares. He's willing to listen, to shoulder some of my burden.
"Zayn," I breathe. I fiddle with my hands awkwardly. I can feel him staring at me, waiting for an answer. "It's nothing, honestly. Just anxiety."
"Well, what's causing the anxiety, love?" I cringe at the use of the pet name love, knowing that Chef called me that not long ago.
I shrug my shoulders, "I don't know. I've been this way since I was a child. Genetics? I guess?" I look up at him and I can see it in his eyes, he doesn't believe me. He knows something's up. He knows that I'm keeping the truth from him.
"Arielle," he warns. "I'm not stupid, love. Whenever I grab your ass you start fucking hyperventilating." He stands up, "what is going on?" He's now raised his voice out of frustration.
He's not stupid. He's realized what's wrong, he just doesn't know the reason why. I can't keep this from him forever...
"Nothing," my mouth says, but my heart longs to tell him. A familiar sting runs through the left side of my chest.
He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, "Arielle, I can't help you if you aren't willing to tell me." He warns.
"Why the hell is the subject about me hiding things from you?!" I outburst.
He looks up at me, his eyes already darkening a shade.
"Why don't you explain to me who the hell Kit is? Oh, and how about Snow? Who's Snow Zayn? Ryder? An old friend Zayn, really? How do you afford this house, hmm? Do you really think I'm stupid?" My fists are balled up at my sides. I'm desperate to change the subject from myself. I know that this is going to cause a fight, but it doesn't matter anymore. It's too late.
"Why don't you just mind your own business?" He snaps.
I laugh humourlessly, "really? Mind my own business?" I take a step towards him, "how about you clear out the skeletons in your own closet before rummaging through mine."
He looks away from me and takes in a deep breath. He ignores my statement, stomping around me and down the hallway.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" I yell after him, following him. He stomps away from me, never saying a word. He rummages through a cabinet in the kitchen, pulls out a bottle of liquor, pops the lid off and throws his head back, taking a large gulp. He stops for a moment in the kitchen to eye me up and then he stomps towards the front door, heading straight downstairs.
I follow him down the stairs and into the garage. He continually throws his head back, pounding back more and more of the liquor.
"Where the hell are you going?" I reiterate. "Take me home," I demand.
He chuckles, "babygirl, I'm not taking you anywhere. You'd better get out of my face before I do something I'll regret." His jaw is set, and he's staring at me with an intensity I've never seen before. "I'm serious. Don't make me say something I can't take back."
"Fine then, I'll just call someone to come get me." I walk out of the garage, stopping in the doorway to look at him.
He swallows more of the liquor and hits a button on the radio in the corner. The room fills with bass and he pops the hood to his car.
I walk up the stairs and dial Zoe's number. She picks up on the third ring. "What's up?" Her voice is much too cheerful on the other end of the line.
"I need Louis to come get me, please."
"I'm sorry, but is it an emergency because he really can't at the moment." I sigh and Zoe hears it on the other end. "Is everything alright?" She asks.
"Yeah, it's fine. I'm just kind of stuck at Zayn's. I'm not feeling well and he isn't able to take me home is all. Thanks anyways," I lie.
"I'm sorry! Feel better, okay? Love you."
"Love you too," I reply and she hangs up.
I walk over to the couch and slump down in it. What am I supposed to do now?
Zayn can't just leave me like this. He can't just expect me to tell him everything this easily. This is something that's been bottled up my entire life. This is something that I struggle with every day to supress. I've only ever told one person and that was someone I trusted, someone who I'd known my whole life. He can't just expect me to tell him after this short amount of time we've grown to know each other. Especially not when he doesn't tell me anything.
How does he even afford a house like this? His mother lives in this small little house, and she's a police officer, yet Zayn, who has no actual legitimate job, has this beautiful house. What sorts of things do you have to do to own something this expansive and expensive?
I look around the house. I don't even realize that Sky is sitting near the other end of the couch until she whimpers lightly. "Sky," I say quietly. She takes slow steps towards me and sits at my feet. I reach for her and she licks my hand delicately. I pick her up and place her on the couch beside me. She doesn't even hesitate; she just curls right up beside me.
I lean backwards in the couch. Well I guess I'm stuck here and Zayn's pissed off at me... what exactly is there to do around here? What can I do to avoid him? And let out some of my own anger? I roll my head and look over at the kitchen. I could cook. But thinking about cooking right now brings me right back to class, to Chef, to Zayn yelling at me... it just loops me right back around.
I hear the song change downstairs, the beat of the bass shakes the floor beneath my feet. After a few moments the music becomes louder.
I could sit out on the deck and just enjoy the sunset. The sky is a mixture of beautiful shades of pinks and blues. Maybe I should just pour myself my own toxic mixture of alcohol and get drunk all by myself. I'm sure if I looked hard enough I'd find some weed around here that could really be useful at a time like this.
I ever so carefully wriggle myself out from beside Sky without disturbing her. She twitches a little in her sleep but doesn't wake. I make my way into the kitchen and open Zayn's small wine cooler. I pull a bottle out and pour some into a glass. I cradle the glass within my hands, inhaling its scent for a moment before placing it to my lips.
I slowly walk down the hall. I look towards the door at the end of the narrow space. Zayn's painting room. What if I painted something? It's not like he can object... he's in the garage and the music is blaring so loudly that I can hear the lyrics as the beat shakes the entire house.
I carefully open the door. The room is dark and I switch on the light as I take a step in. The easel is empty. Everything seems to be slightly cleaner than the last time I entered this room, which was a mess.
I notice a new painting hanging on the wall. It's the painting I saw on the easel last time I was in here; the painting of me. The painting of my lower half wearing jeans with a tear in the thigh, revealing my rose tattoo. Last time I saw this I got so drunk that I passed out in Zayn's bed in barely any clothes. Back when we cooked together and he left so abruptly.
Where exactly did he go that night? Did all of this have something to do with that 'Ryder' fellow? I had a feeling that whatever Zayn was hiding from me was something very serious. You'd have to do quite a lot of illegal stuff to afford a house as beautiful as this one. And that illegal stuff would have to pay a pretty penny...
I sip on my wine a little more and place it down on the table beside the easel. I grab a brush and some paints. I stand before the blank canvas unsure of what exactly to paint. I've never ever been one to do artistic things. I never thought I had a creative bone in my body, so what the hell do I paint? The music changes and the house shakes even more. I listen as Zayn turns the volume up higher.
I dip my brush in the paint and swipe it across the empty page. I mean, art is subjective, right? I don't think too much about what I'm doing, I just dip my brush in another colour and swipe it again. I embody the music with my hand.
My fingers just find a pace with the song. After a few minutes, the canvas in front of me is covered with swirls and lines and it's full of colour. I cock my head to the side. Surprisingly I think it turned out well. I step back once I'm certain that I'm finished. I grab the glass of wine and appreciate the piece of art I've created. I place the glass to my lips.
Before leaving the room I clean the brushes and the mess I've made. I close the art room's door before walking back down the hallway. I cradle the wine glass in my hands, taking quick but careful sips. I notice Sky still fast asleep on the couch. I debate whether or not to wake her and play with her, but decide against it when she takes a heavy breath in her sleep. I finish off the remainder of wine within my glass.
That's when I realize that the music has ceased. I hear slow heavy boots making their way up the stairs. "Arielle," I hear Zayn slur.
When I look down the stairs he's crawling up on his hands and knees. He doesn't see me, "babygirl?" He calls out.
His eyes slowly look upwards until they find my feet at the top of the stairs, "babygirl... love... I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he slurs before collapsing at the platform halfway up the stairs.